During a class a few years ago, the subject of firing at night came up. It was not an advanced course of study, but the interested student had digested quite a bit of information on the topic from many sources, and, frankly, most of it needed to be regurgitated.

I replied that, in my personal experience, there might be sufficient time for a light to come into play and for the shooter to use special and particular tactics, but, in my opinion, body positioning would carry the day more so than any other special technique. I went on to explain that, after you’ve become a competent shooter, you’ll use the same skills on demand at all times, regardless of lighting.

The stance, grip, sight picture, sight alignment, trigger press, recoil control and follow-through are always the same, regardless of the problem faced. You will fire more quickly at short range with a coarse sight picture, and you will fire with more deliberation at longer range. You will “move off the X” when possible, and you will seek cover if you can. But the main component of any combat tactic will always be body positioning.


In short, your body positioning leads to getting the sight picture, and your sight picture — in a physical sense — leads to getting a hit.


I’ve never subscribed to “point shooting” or “instinctive shooting” but rather always use my sights or some form of aiming, and I teach as much. Even when firing at very close range, the handgun itself is used as a firing reference, and when firing from retention, the body position itself is an index. But if you’re caught in a low-light situation and are forced to fire, you will get a hit inside of 10 yards (even if you cannot quite get a perfect sight picture or even see the sights) so long as you fire from the normal firing position which you’ve learned and from which you’ve practiced.

Of course, you must aim as if you are going to get a hit. It isn’t simple, but body positioning is the most important framework of marksmanship. In short, your body positioning leads to getting the sight picture, and your sight picture — in a physical sense — leads to getting a hit.

It doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly you’re firing or what type of target you’re addressing; the solid platform of your body position is essential. The art of the process is to keep the body pointed toward the target, and the more practice you get at forming such a solid platform, the greater the likelihood of a hit and not a miss. Remember: The more solid your position, the more easily you will be able to control recoil.

You can’t figure this stuff out under fire or just kind of guess your way through it; you have to have these skills squared away before the balloon goes up. Every movement must be geared toward getting the handgun into position for a clean shot. You’ll need a good sight picture and you’ll need to somehow ensure proper sight alignment and then top it all off with a trigger press that doesn’t disturb your sight picture.

You may be caught flat-footed when the attack is initially sprung on you, but you’d best quickly get into the correct body position. You may be lucky enough to have the chance to take cover and fire from a solid barricade firing position or you may even be kneeling beside your vehicle. But your body position remains all-important.

Woman holding a gun and a flashlight in the dark

REGARDLESS OF YOUR preferred technique, as usual, the most important factor will be whether you actually train on it. “Man-marking” rounds, such as those from UTM shown here, make for an outstanding training resource, day or night.

Center Yourself

When the handgun is presented toward the target, the goal is to have the center mass of your body balanced and directly behind the handgun so that you’re firmly in control of the gun (and yourself) and are presenting a solid firing platform. Body positioning will allow you to direct accurate fire when standing, but that’s just the beginning. Correct body position will also allow you to hit when you’re on the move or even in dim light.

No matter how physically powerful or how great a runner you are, most of the control of the handgun and the strength of a firing position come from the upper body. The lower body is important for movement and for stability, but the upper body is where movement of the firearm comes into play. (An instructor will sometimes ask students to think of the body as a tank: The top half is the “turret,” and the bottom half is the “treads.”) By the same token, no matter how highly developed your muscles are, your bones are your true foundation.

The muscles and muscle memory are important, but the bones provide the platform for the musculature and are not as subject to fatigue. Similarly, any muscular tension present in your body will be transferred to the handgun — and from there to your shooting, which can cause a miss even at short range. Practice the correct body position so that you go into it every time you fire.

Train It In

With time and proper practice, your body will learn and adapt and you will develop the foundation for successful shooting. You’ll also find that you’ll recover after each shot far more quickly and easily. With time, you won’t even think about post-recovery; it will simply become what happens after you shoot.

As you train, you need to stand back and look hard at your shooting as well as observe others. I have been privileged to observe some of the best shots in action. Shooting books tend to have chapters on shooting and are worthwhile to study, but you have to meet the author halfway and add your own experience and hands-on training. Shooting books should have a few lines on how to evaluate your own body and how you move. When I teach advanced skills, some students groove in more quickly; they become alive in their skills and comfortable with their ability levels even though they may be novices. They are willing to learn and have learned to learn, which makes them teachable.


Body positioning will allow you to direct accurate fire when standing, but that’s just the beginning. Correct body position will also allow you to hit when you’re on the move or even in dim light.


Those who play ball or have some martial arts experience are usually the finest students, as they’ve set goals and met them in the past. Many years ago, during a reserve officer class, a fine young man, already a trained paramedic, had a particularly difficult time with his handgun. He felt that everyone in the class was performing better than he, and perhaps they were. But he and I got with the program; he got squared away and he qualified with a high score. More importantly, this initial setback sent him to the practice range more often.

Others have a certain amount of natural ability, which is fine but only goes so far. Like it or not, you’ll have to learn how to conduct yourself through proven technique. When researching this report, I looked at athletics and learned a new term that applies to shooting: “kinesthetic awareness,” which is simply being aware of your limbs and their position without actually looking at them. When moving, standing, firing and reloading, this is as important as any other aspect of combat shooting. Some have it and some don’t, but all must develop and cultivate it.

Square Up

Shooting for personal defense is deadly serious business, and training must be relevant and demanding. The primary focus in learning the correct shooting position for any given circumstance is that the body must point toward the target and the center of gravity must be maintained. The classic Weaver stance, for example, is taken with the weight forward of the hips, with the upper body supporting the gun. Though the Weaver stance is still employed by many shooters, you’ll have to be careful not to step too lightly with the rear foot; it must be as solidly planted as the forward foot.

Body position is important when shooting, especially when shooting while moving. A good IDPA match will sharpen these skills and is highly recommended. When firing against moving targets while also being on the move, all too often, a student will move his or her hands and arms instead of his or her whole upper body. Keep the solid shooting platform and do not break the shoulders, elbows or wrists; move the entire upper body as the “turret” and use the lower body as the “treads” when addressing targets.

With practice, repetition and a little thought, you’ll eventually understand body positioning and use it to your advantage.